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BICYCLE GARAGE INDY’S HISTORY
Many people ask: "How did you get started in this business?" "On a dare" is the short answer. At the age of 32, I was working with Eli Lilly and Company and was a two pack a day smoker. A friend of mine (who worked for IBM and who was also a heavy smoker) said,"let's quit smoking and ride from Indy to Knoxville to the 1980 World's Fair." I nearly fell to my knees laughing out loud. My friend said he was completely serious - he was laying down the gauntlet and I took the dare.
I quit smoking and went out and bought everything in sight - touring bike, front and rear racks / panniers, tent, air mattress, mess kit, etc. You name it and I bought it. I guess I thought I deserved it because of the misery of kicking my smoking habit. With six weeks to go till blastoff, we trained about 100 miles a week. We would often ride loaded with our touring gear because that amount of weight can really affect your balance. My friend was a long time rider and really taught me the nuances of riding. How to ride in traffic, how to climb, how to signal your intentions, how to draft, the importance of calling out road hazards, etc. He provided continual encouragement without which I would have given up on the goal.
We roped four other guys into doing this ride and had many fun evenings planning our route and where we might camp each night. In retrospect, the planning and training was almost as great as the trip itself - almost.
The trip would take 6 days and require 100 miles per day (fully loaded with 40 pounds of gear!). It would be the scariest challenge I had ever undertaken and I had little confidence I could do it. What I did have was the company of five other guys that were probably thinking the same thing. This is when I learned that cycling is basically a social undertaking. It's amazing what you can do with the support and camaraderie of your fellow cyclists.
When we pushed off, the adrenaline kicked in. I made it through the hills of Kentucky but just barely. I'll never forget the three mile climb to the top of Gratz Mountain and I'll never forget hitting 50 miles per hour going down the other side of Jellico Mountain, TN. After day four, I thought I was sitting directly on my seatpost - I had "hit the wall." Luckily, my friend had told me about "the wall," so I was prepared for it.
On day six, we pulled into Knoxville. We were all dog tired but very proud of our effort. Two years later, I was in Bloomington along with a buddy of mine who also had taken the trip to Knoxville and who also worked at Lilly. We stopped into Bicycle Garage in Bloomington just to check out the latest in cycling gear. One of the owners got to chatting with us and commented that a large shop in Indy had just declared bankruptcy and suggested there was an opportunity there.
I had always wanted to own a business. I was the guy in shop class that was printing my own lawn mowing business cards at the age of 12. I would then go around the neighborhood flogging my mowing services.
We began discussions with the two young college students who had started Bicycle Garage in Bloomington in the early 1980s. They had started in a small garage in an alley just off Kirkwood Avenue. Their initial space was very small. They carried a low quality bike line and a few choice accessories and found it necessary to work two jobs to keep their own business afloat. After a year or so, they got a small location one block from campus on Kirkwood Avenue. They later expanded into the adjoining space, and it appeared as it does today. Bicycle Garage, Inc. remains in this location today and is a very highly regarded specialty bicycle retailer.
In early 1983, these discussions led to a partnership among the four of us and we started Bicycle Garage of Indy, Inc. Our original location was 3,000 square feet in one of the strip malls near the Castleton Square Mall on Indy's northeast side.
Bicycle Garage Indy was a model for many up-and-coming shops in the Midwest because of its high traffic location and well merchandised look. Additionally, we were developing our own computer system that was often more advanced than our suppliers. This advanced system allowed us to better control our business. Over the next three years, the two Bicycle Garage operations expanded and upgraded their product lines to be among the best specialty bicycle retailers in the industry. The new Indianapolis store in Castleton performed better than anyone's wildest dreams.
Eventually two of the original four shareholders left the business to pursue other endeavors. One of the original four partners took sole ownership of Bicycle Garage, Inc. in Bloomington and I took control of Bicycle Garage of Indy, Inc. in Indianapolis. In 1986, I left Eli Lilly to own and manage the Indianapolis store on a full-time basis.
By 1993, the company had grown to a point where it desperately needed more square footage. The bicycle business continued to expand and we had also purposefully moved into the fitness business as a strategic counter-seasonal decision. We formed the marketing trade name BGI Fitness as a way to go forward with our residential and commercial fitness business. After 18 months of designing a new retail concept, Bicycle Garage Indy and BGI Fitness moved to the 82nd Street store in May of 1995. Sales expanded rapidly and by 1998 we had doubled the overall sales volume of BGI.
In the fall of 1998, Bicycle Garage Indy acquired Cyclesport and their two stores - one on the southside and one in Broad Ripple. We were successful in installing our business model in the southside location but were not successful in doing so at the Broad Ripple location. Its small footprint, 3000 square feet, was just too small to maintain adequate floor space for both the bicycle and fitness business segments and it was just too close to our established North Store.
In 2004, we became dissatisfied with the location of our South store and began to look for an alternate location with much better visibility and accessibility. We found such a location on County Line Road just a few seconds west of I65 South. Throughout 2005, we designed a new store from the ground up and opened in early 2006. This new store has performed well beyond our expectations, almost doubling its performance compared to our old location.
In 2008, we celebrated 25 years in business. The only thing I remember about that was getting a full cooler of ice water poured on me at the end of the 2008 Spring Bicycle Expo!!
As we entered 2008, I fully understood that my legacy project was to advocate for more, better and safer places to ride a bicycle. I began to advocate at the state and Indianapolis City level. I found an important, like-minded partner - Greg Ballard, Mayor of the City of Indianapolis. Under Mayor Ballard, we have made more progress in the last five-six years than in the previous 25 years BGI had been in business. In 2008, BGI received an important award from our industry - Retail Advocate of the Year.
2009 brought some very distinctive honors to BGI. We were voted by our industry peers as a Top 100 Speciality Bicycle Dealer (there are about 4,500 dealers in the US). Further, we were among 37 dealers who have been on that list for the last 5 years. But we are especially proud of being one of 11 "Shops for the Ages." Someone took the time to research those dealers that have been continuously named a Top 100 dealer since this survey started in 1987. BGI was one of those eleven! No wonder I feel old.
In 2010, we had the opportunity to expand our North store by designing and building a new building across the parking lot from the current North store on East 82nd Street. It nearly doubled the square footage to 24,000. It was a long and arduous project but the end result was fabulous! It opened in February, 2012 and quickly exceeded our expectations.
The building of the new store overlapped my bout with colon cancer (from which I remain clean) and four operations. Those years were, without a doubt, the toughest years of my life, and not by a little bit either.
THE NEXT GENERATION
In 2012, I proclaimed the new North store would be the last store I would ever build and that led me to the question of a succession plan. In the ensuing two years, I looked for a solution that would best preserve the culture and history of BGI. In early 2014, I executed a plan that would eventually transition ownership to Scott Helvie. Scott had worked with BGI for about 5 years from 1999 to 2004 and was an outstanding contributor. He left BGI to join Giant Bicycle, first as our Territory Manager and then as our Regional Sales Manager.
Over those ten years, Scott continued to live in Indianapolis and was always directly or indirectly responsible for the BGI account. Scott was always in the shop and was known to almost all BGI employees. And, most importantly, respected by all. This transition will take several years and I will continue to be involved for as many as five more years. Scott has assumed responsibility for all operations as the Chief Operation Officer and I will continue to be responsible for several administrative areas including financial. Few know that I was a bean-counter - and I suppose still am. My undergraduate degree was in Finance and Accounting and worked in those areas while at Eli Lilly.
As for me, I often remember the dare, the trip and the strange twist of events that led me to this point. I owe so much to my lovely and talented wife, Kathy, for putting up with what it takes to own a small business.
Randall G Clark, Founder and CEO
March 27, 2014